The NFL’s player protest dilemma

I wish I had the fortitude to just say “no” to football Sunday.

But I’m weak and enjoy football way too much to make a statement Sunday by turning away from the National Football League.

Instead I’ll spend several hours watching the sport, screaming at the TV and questioning coach’s decisions.

Last week most players and teams joined together in protests during the national anthem. It was a response to comments made Sept. 22 by President Donald Trump, who called out players and owners for protesting while the national anthem was being sung, saying that the owners should fire a player for protesting. After the league reacted in protests of their own, this week he said “I don’t think you can disrespect our country, our flag, our national anthem. To me, the NFL situation is a very important situation.”

Now, for the sake of clarity, I need to pause here and set some things straight.

First, as a firm supporter of the First Amendment, I would argue loud and long that NFL players, owners and staff have every right to protest as they see fit.

Second, I have been very public about the fact I am not a President Trump supporter. While I support most conservative and GOP issues, I am not a fan of the presidency.

Third, I do not believe the president should have ventured in the NFL protest waters.

And finally, my personal position on the issue is best summed up as this, which I now quote from another source that I read this week: “I stand for the flag, I kneel at the cross.”

My problem with the NFL protests are many. First, whether they realize it or not, players are disrespecting the sacrifice and service of American soldiers.

“Clearly people have a right to express themselves, that is the First Amendment. What I don’t think people seem to get is, when you do it on the flag or the anthem it looks like you’re protesting against the ideals of America, the patriotism, the people who have put their life on the line for the country,” House Speaker Paul Ryan told a CNN reporter this week.

I also would question what exactly is the focus of the protests? Are they to draw awareness to police brutality because of the color of a person’s skin, as what Colin Kaepernick started protesting last season? Or, were they in essence a “middle finger salute” to the president and his words in the protests last week? And, of those protesting, how many could give me an answer as to its focus?

My personal thoughts are they were a quick and not well thought out answer to the president, and the whole situation quickly backfired on them. This week has been a public relations nightmare for the NFL and professional sports.

And make no mistake, a significant percentage of the fans (those who are paying the NFL players’ salaries) are upset by the protests.

In a ESPN poll Friday, 51 percent of those polled disapproved of the protest, while only 39 percent were in favor of it. As for those who were less interested in the NFL after the protests, that number was 40 percent — 31 percent of those were self described as “avid” fans.

When you see numbers like that, it quickly becomes apparent the NFL faces a marketing dilemma of monumental proportions. How do league officials appease players, owners and fans and yet preserve ratings? How do they move forward without alienating their base?

The whole issue is frustrating and frankly, my disdain for all things political grows stronger each and every day because of the lack of common sense in society.

And, truth be told, I believe I am part of the problem. If I really felt an injustice was done last week, I should turn away from the games this weekend.

Instead, as I stated already, I will be watching them like I always do.

But I won’t be happy about it. There will be a frustration — especially if the same thing happens again.

And, it is people like me the NFL really needs to concern themselves with. If they lose the die hards who are giving them a pass this week, they soon will be sliding down a very slippery slope to disaster.

Forgiveness only extends so far.

Bill Speer can be reached via email at bspeer@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 354-3111 ext. 331. Follow Bill on Twitter @billspeer13.